Minnesota’s prison population, already overcrowded due to what the Minneapolis Post calls an “unprecedented spike” in inmates over the past 15 years as a result of higher penalties for driving while impaired (DWI) convictions, drug possession and trafficking, and sexual offenses, could be driven even higher due to a new law aimed at felons who possess bullets or other ammunition.
The new law institutes a 5-year minimum sentence for felons with past histories of violent crimes if they possess bullets or other ammunition when arrested or searched. It is identical to the sentence for being caught with a firearm. The 5-year minimum sentence is mandatory. The law is an amendment to the state’s existing gun regulations.
The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission estimates that the new sentencing could mean that the prison system would need more than 110 new places over the next 5 years, over 20% more than the current population. The Commission notes that the current population itself includes a 500-person overflow that is currently being housed in county jails throughout the state.
Minnesota has one of the smallest prison populations in the U.S. Despite this, the overcrowding is severe given current capacity. The state legislature appointed a task force which is looking at several solutions. One is a proposal by the Department of Corrections to expand the Rush City prison. Another is to lease the Prairie Correctional Facility, a private prison, which hasn’t housed a prison population for 5 years. It is in Appleton.